Island Health board chair Leah Hollins. (Lexi Bainas/News Staff)

Island Health board chair Leah Hollins. (Lexi Bainas/News Staff)

ISLAND HEALTH COLUMN: New year focus on vaccinations, opioid crisis, racism in healthcare

Island Health says while there is much work ahead, there is hope

By Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live and connect with each other in ways we never would have imagined just one year ago. Island Health has risen to the challenge by continuing to provide health and care, while responding to a pandemic and an incredibly challenging opioid overdose crisis.

As we look back at the past year – and look ahead to the year to come – we must pause to remember those we lost from these two public health emergencies.

Throughout the Island Health region, we have been fortunate to see fewer COVID-19 positive cases than many other jurisdictions. I am often asked ‘what is different here?’ COVID-19 appeared later at Island Health, giving us the opportunity to implement precautions much earlier. We mobilized quickly, learning from others on what we needed to do to keep our seniors and communities safe, and took action. As new information and experiences arose, we adapted our response.

While this was an important aspect of our response, the number one reason we have seen lower positive cases are the direct actions from the people in our communities, which have kept this virus from spreading and helped protect our health care system and each other.

Washing your hands, keeping at least two metres apart, wearing a mask in public spaces, staying home when you are sick, and getting tested if you have symptoms; these are the fundamentals of defeating the virus.

From the very early days of the pandemic, we have been stronger together even when we have had to stay physically apart. People supported health care workers in creative ways from putting hearts in windows, to making noise at 7 p.m. each day when the pandemic first hit. I’ve heard from care providers all across the region that these actions made a difference and helped lift them up.

Even with the incredible focus on fighting COVID-19, we have continued moving forward on initiatives to improve health and care in our region. Over the past year, with the support of the province, we have opened the James Bay Urgent Primary Care Centre and Health Care on Yates in Greater Victoria, expanded our use of virtual care, initiated Hospital at Home, and expanded our use of technology to enable more patients to receive care in their homes. After a nine-week pause in scheduled surgeries, we reopened operating rooms by the end of May, and we have seen surgical volumes averaging 10 per cent above last year, and are on track to recover by summer of 2021.

READ ALSO: Victoria’s first urgent primary health clinic set to open in James Bay this month

READ ALSO: New nurse practitioner-led medical clinic welcomes Victoria patients

After beginning to see some light in our response to the opioid crisis in 2019, reducing the number of overdose deaths, the pandemic set us back, enabling a more toxic drug supply and driving up the number of people we have lost. In partnership with the province, municipalities and front line service providers, we are developing new pathways to support vulnerable populations.

READ ALSO: Pandemic aggravates opioid crisis as overdoses rise and services fall out of reach

Longstanding injustices from anti-Indigenous racism also came to the forefront in the B.C. health care system in 2020. An investigation led by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond identified widespread anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system – including at Island Health. Racism has no place in health and care – in fact, it goes against everything we believe in – and we will not look the other way when it is exposed. The Truth and Reconciliation Report stressed change must first begin with understanding the truth. We are committed to make lasting changes by hearing the truth and responding with change.

READ ALSO: Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The importance of public health under the leadership of our medical health officers have guided our day to day lives in ways we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. Public health is the basis for overall health and wellness, from ensuring our air and water is clean, to promoting the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, to immunizations against disease.

As we head into 2021, our public health officials are now leading a new and bold initiative – immunizing our population against COVID-19. It is the beginning of the end of the pandemic; and while there is much work to do before this virus is defeated, there is hope.

READ ALSO: Vaccines for general public on Vancouver Island not expected anytime soon

Leah Hollins is the board chair of Island Health

ColumnIsland HealthOpinion

Just Posted

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
SD70 chooses new name for AW Neill School in Port Alberni

New name honours Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples’ connection to region

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

Ron MacDonald fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Finding ‘comfortable’ indigenous monitor tough task in Tofino-area shooting death

Julian Jones case hampered by difficulty finding a civilian comfortable with privacy protocols

Port Alberni RCMP officer in command Insp. Eric Rochette presents longtime community policing volunteer Louie Aumair with a OIC appreciation certificate. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni RCMP honour longtime volunteer

First responders receive support from broader community

The Dock+ is located on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
PROGRESS 2021: Port Alberni’s food hub still growing a year later

The Dock hopes to open a retail store on Alberni’s busy waterfront

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read